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December 13th 2016

Amanda Stevens

‘Lessons will be learned’ – the unfulfilled NHS promise over avoidable hospital deaths

‘Lessons will be learned’ – the unfulfilled NHS promise over avoidable hospital deaths

By Amanda Stevens, Group Head of Legal Practice at Hudgell Solicitors

By Amanda Stevens, Group Head of Legal Practice at Hudgell Solicitors

Relatives are being ‘shut out of investigations’ around the deaths of their loved ones, causing them further suffering, a damning report into the NHS has claimed today.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which inspects all UK Hospital Trusts, says families are being left without clear answers when preventable deaths occur.

It follows a review which looked at NHS trusts in England providing acute, community and mental health services, placing a particular focus on people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities.

Shockingly, it found there to be a ‘level of acceptance and sense of inevitability’ when people with a learning disability died early – something the CQC said was ‘too common’ in trusts.

It also said many families and carers were not routinely told what their rights are when a relative dies, and that there was no consistent national framework in place to support the NHS to investigate deaths.

No progress made since Mid Staffordshire Enquiry into hundreds of deaths

More than three years ago we heard the findings of the Mid Staffordshire Enquiry (into hundreds of avoidable deaths at two hospitals caused by substandard care and staff failings), calling for greater openness, transparency and learning across the NHS as part of the Duty of Candour.

In February 2015, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt then announced an annual review of avoidable hospital deaths, saying it was ‘the biggest scandal in global healthcare’ that 12,000 people a year were needlessly losing their lives in the UK.

“It is about changing behaviour and the way everyone works in the NHS,” he said at the time, as he pledged to finally make a difference.

Yet here we are, almost two years on from that statement, and we are still seeing figures that one in 20 hospital deaths in the UK are avoidable.

Clearly, little has changed, and families are still being kept in the dark.

Mr Hunt’s latest pledge will be for health trusts to collect information on unexpected deaths and publish statistics so ‘lessons can be learned’, asking trusts to make a particular priority of data on patients with learning disabilities.

Quite simply though, this is not good enough. It is effectively an admission that nothing has changed since all of those avoidable deaths between January 2005 and March 2009 as part of the Mid Staffordshire Enquiry.

The CQC report has highlighted this failure to prioritise learning from deaths so that action can be taken to improve care for future patients and their families, and until this matter is addressed, we’ll see no improvement.

Legal action often the only way of forcing NHS to own up to errors

This report has highlighted why we at Hudgell Solicitors are so passionate about the work we do in representing the people and families who are so badly let down by negligent medical care.

Often, without our involvement, serious, challenging questions of hospital care are simply not asked and lessons are never learned.

It is of particular concern that this report has highlighted this issue in relation to the deaths of people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties – people who cannot demand answers and question their care themselves.

From our work, we see day to day that patients often need a relative or loved one to act as their advocate, asking constant questions and demanding better care.

This should not be needed though, and quite simply we should no longer be talking about these problems, but should by now be reflecting on changes made to reduce the number of lives lost on hospital wards across the country.

It is a blight on the whole NHS that it has acted with such disrespect for patients and their safety, and it is particularly damaging that a state institution has allowed such a problem to perpetuate for many years.

Learn the lesson – don’t just say changes will be made, make those changes happen.

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